US agency accused of imposing Land Bill

MASERU — Youths from opposition political parties in Lesotho have accused a United States agency for poverty reduction of setting the controversial Land Bill 2009 as a prerequisite for aid.
The youths accused the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) of masterminding the proposed law and dangling it as a carrot for a US$362.5 million (about M2.6 billion at the current exchange rate) grant meant for development in Lesotho.
The Land Bill, which among other reforms seeks to allow foreigners to own land in Lesotho, was tabled before parliament in September.
The youths told a press conference on Tuesday that they wanted the Bill withdrawn from parliament because they suspected it did not serve the interests of the poor.
They accused the Lesotho Congress for Democracy-led government of not consulting widely before crafting the proposed law.
The youths were from the All Basotho Convention (ABC) party, Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC), Basotho National Party, Marematlou Freedom Party, Senkatana, Basutoland Congress Party and Basotho Democratic National Party.
Bokang Ramats’ella, of the LPC youth league, told the press conference that it was better if the MCC did not release the grant than “twisting our arms” to comply with its conditions.
“We do not want the conditions they have set or else they should take back their money,” Ramats’ella said.
“We know that they are the ones who imposed their conditions and they use their puppet government to implement them.
“We are also aware that the agreement the MCC entered into with the government of Lesotho was not a mutual one.”
ABC youth leader Libe Moremoholo said the Bill came as a surprise because the LCD’s manifesto for the last general elections in 2007 was silent on land reform.
“There has not been enough public consultation before this Bill was drafted because the LCD abruptly decided to make it under pressure,” Moremoholo said.
Moremoholo said it was unfortunate that the LCD wanted to legalise the sale of land, particularly to foreigners, without first getting permission from the masses.
MCC resident country director Gene MacDonald, however, denied that the US agency influenced the formulation of the Bill.
MacDonald told the Lesotho Times that the MCC simply followed the US government’s criteria to select countries eligible for grants.
“Countries undergo an evaluation process to see if they are eligible for the grant, which is given based on whether they practise good governance and invest in people,” she said.
“The MCC did not have any influence in the making of the Bill.”
MacDonald said it was in fact the government of Lesotho which — when it applied for an MCC grant — proposed to overhaul the country’s land tenure system.
She said the MCC only agreed to give Lesotho money to carry out the plans it had proposed.
“This initiative came from the government of Lesotho and it was approved by the Millennium Challenge Corporation to be part of the compact,” MacDonald said.
The development of a land policy and a new land administration authority will be funded through the MCC grant.
“Ours was to provide funds to support the Lesotho government initiatives,” MacDonald said.
The MCC’s deputy resident country director, Brian Baltimore, added that the agency never came up with projects for any country applying for a grant.
“The MCC has no role telling countries what to do or what not to do,” he said.

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